SEASIDE - You never forget your first orchid. Sunset Empire Orchid Society member Monica Church still has the dendrobium she picked up in the discount plant section at Fred Meyer several years ago. Church and her orchid went on to win plant show ribbons, and today the plant is among dozens that the Sunset Beach area grower lovingly tends.

"I remember buying that first one and thinking, 'Oh, that's a nice looking plant,'" recalls Church. "I became a collector pretty quickly after that."

Not only is Church now an aficionado, she is helping to put on the local society's seventh annual show Saturday, Oct. 4 and Sunday, Oct. 5 at Broadway Middle School. In addition to the local exhibitors and enthusiasts, more than 18 Northwest commercial orchid growers will be on hand to show and sell plants. Church says growers have signed up from Seattle, Portland and Salem area to attend. They'll be joined by members from Oregon and Washington orchid societies, who will exhibit their plants and answer questions about orchids. There's even a growing operation from Northern California called Orchids for the People that is slated to attend.

About 300 people attended last year's show, says Church, many of whom took advantage of low-cost repotting and a chance to rub elbows with fellow orchid fans. Church has been growing orchids for about five years and her collection once reached 80 plants before the birth of her youngest son, Lars, 11 months ago. She and her husband, Joe, and 10-year-old son, Alex, live in a home near the Astoria Golf & Country Club. A sun porch equipped with grow lights provides Church's plants with natural and artificial light. Southern exposure can be too hot for some orchids, while others actually require very filtered, indirect light. Orchids share the same needs as other flowering plants - water, fertilizer, light and air - you just need to give them what they need, when they need it. Some growers prefer to water once a week, and then to monitor each orchid carefully so it does not dry out from lack of water or rot from too much water. Believe it or not, overwatering is a huge problem for novice orchid growers. Likewise, fertilizing your orchids is a vital practice. A good rule of thumb is a serving of orchid food on alternating weeks, while making sure to flush the fertilizer salts out with the next week's watering.

Church also notes that good air circulation is important for orchids. She keeps a small fan in her growing porch and turns it on occasionally.

There are 20,000 species of orchids that grow around the world and Church has a hankering to go to Costa Rica and Peru to see orchids there. Ask her what orchid she covets, and Church says a scented Phaleonopsis violacea with purplish green blooms would fit the bill.

"It's supposed to smell out of this world," she says.

Church encourages people interested in learning about and growing orchids to consider joining the local society. For a nominal fee, you get a free handbook, "Your First Orchids and How to Grow Them" and can attend helpful monthly meetings.

"I don't know of a better way to learn about orchids," she says.

If you want to catch a bit of orchidmania, but don't know where to start, here are some good sources.

• The American Orchid Society offers a free instant primer on orchid basics and how to cultivate six popular genera. To get a copy of the AOS Membership Brochure, write the American Orchid Society, 16700 AOS Lane, Delray Beach, FL 33446-4351. You also can call the society, (561) 404-2000 or make contact by e-mail, AOS@aos.org

Also, check out the AOS Web site, www.orchidweb.org

• Rebecca T. Northern's "Home Orchid Growing" - is a popular, all-purpose orchid book for novice and experienced growers. The hardcover price is $50.

• A favorite orchid tome for many people is the "Taylor's Guide to Orchids" by Judy White. White dove into orchid culture and won a Quill & Trowel award for book writing. She offers culture and other orchid information in half of the book and presents a fully illustrated encyclopedia in the other half. The hardcover price is $24.

• The Sunset Empire Orchid Society meets the second Sunday of each month in the Columbia Memorial Hospital Meeting Room, Astoria. The meetings are from 2 to 4 p.m. Visitors are welcome.

Cathy Peterson belongs to the Clatsop County Master Gardener Association. "In the Garden" runs weekly in Coast Weekend. Please send comments and gardening news to "In the Garden," The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or online at peterson@paci fier.com

If you goThe Sunset Orchid Society presents their seventh annual Fall Show & Sale, "Dreaming of Orchids." The event runs 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5. It's held at Broadway Middle School, 1120 Broadway, Seaside. Admission is $2 and seniors are $1. Refreshments are free. Orchid repotting will be available for a small fee.

Rhododendrons take center stage at convention centerSEASIDE - The 23rd Western Regional Rhododendron Conference takes place here, Friday through Sunday, at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center.

Sponsored by the District 4 group of the American Rhododendron Society, the conference is open to non-members through registration. The fee is $47. Activities include numerous classes, clinics, book sales, raffles and a plant sale that starts at 4 p.m. Friday and runs through Sunday at the Convention Center. Entrance to the plant sale, which features rhododendrons and companion plants from growers such as Thompson's Nursery, Log Cabin Nursery, Red's Rhodies, River Rock Nursery, the Rhododendron Species Foundation and Westside Ornamentals, is free for the public not attending the conference, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to noon on Sunday.

The weekend's workshops will focus on topics such as "Grafting for Dummies," "30 Years with 3,000 Rhododendrons" and "Small Stuff for Your Garden."

Friday night's welcome talk is "The Wonderful World of the American Rhododendron Society," given by ARS President Mike Stewart. Saturday's evening presentation is "The Scottish Plant Collectors," offered by plantsman Ian Sinclair.

For more information, contact registrar Rich Aaring, (541) 485-6013 or online at aaring@willamette.net

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